Annie, With Lilla Crawford, Katie Finneran and Anthony Warlow, Opens on Broadway
By Kenneth Jones
"Tomorrow" is today. Annie, the 1977 show that introduced generations of children to the tuneful optimism of traditional Broadway musicals, opens in a new production on Broadway Nov. 8 following previews from Oct. 3. The 35th anniversary revival of the tale of a red-headed orphan in the care of a billionaire Republican during the Great Depression is directed by Tony Award winner James Lapine.
When it premiered on Broadway, in the wake of Vietnam, inflation and Watergate, the musical inspired by the Jazz Age comic strip "Little Orphan Annie" was a refreshing tonic gulped by parched critics and theatregoers alike. At its center was a little girl belting a song called "Tomorrow," an anthem of hope that became known worldwide.
Annie — which featured a funny-mean orphan matron named Miss Hannigan, her bad-guy brother, an industrialist named Warbucks (no question of how he made his money), his kindly secretary, a mutt named Sandy, a clutch of cute moppets and an appearance by President Franklin Roosevelt — would win Tonys for Best Musical, Best Book (Thomas Meehan) and Best Score (composer Charles Strouse and lyricist Martin Charnin). In the decades that followed Annie, the previously underemployed Meehan became the go-to book writer for Broadway musicals, including the Tony-winning Hairspray and The Producers.
This new staging at the Palace Theatre stars two-time Tony Award winner Katie Finneran (Noises Off and Promises, Promises) as frazzled Miss Hannigan, who laments about "Little Girls" and cooks up a scheme with her brother to outwit Warbucks and land on "Easy Street" (the climax of which incorporates a new visual surprise).
"I was obsessed with the [original cast] album," Finneran told Playbill.com during a break between rehearsals, prior to previews. "My best friend, Sharon Delaney, got me the album for my birthday — I think it was my eighth birthday — and we wore that thing out. We choreographed 'Hard-Knock Life,' we did the whole show with sheets and chairs and performed it for my parents, ad nauseam. It [was] a huge part of my life, growing up. That and Sweeney Todd, but we won't talk about that!"
Finneran is younger casting than usual for Miss Hannigan, who has often been played as a middle-aged, loudmouth, battle-axe. Finneran said she imagines her Aggie Hannigan as a fortysomething former flapper who, being unmarried, has run out of options in society, so she has landed a job at a city orphanage.
"What options would be left for me if I wasn't married?" the actress asked, adding that sometimes her passion for imagining back-story "gets in my way." When she told Lapine about her thoughts on Hannigan, she said with a laugh, "James said, 'Why don't you keep it simple? Just keep it simple…'"
Annie also stars Australian actor Anthony Warlow (who has played major opera and musical-theatre roles around the globe) making his Broadway debut as Oliver "Daddy" Warbucks; 11-year-old Lilla Crawford (who appeared in Broadway's Billy Elliot) as Annie; with Brynn O'Malley (Broadway's Wicked, Sunday in the Park With George) as Warbucks' personal assistant, Grace Farrell; Clarke Thorell (Hairspray) as scheming Rooster Hannigan; and J. Elaine Marcos (Priscilla Queen of the Desert) as Rooster's girlfriend Lily St. Regis.
The Orphans — who participate in the show's signature songs "It's the Hard-Knock Life," "Maybe," "New Deal for Christmas" and "You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile" — are Madi Rae DiPietro as July, Georgi James as Pepper, Junah Jang as Tessie, Tyrah Skye Odoms as Kate, Taylor Richardson as Duffy, Emily Rosenfeld as Molly and Jaidyn Young as standby for the roles of Annie, Pepper, Duffy and July.
Crawford, who uses a street-tough, Noo Yawk accent as Annie for this production, is originally from California, where she saw a touring production of Annie (twice). "I remember that after the show, when the girl who played Annie walked out of the stage door and everyone was like, 'Woo!,' and she was signing all these autographs," Crawford told Playbill.com. "I thought that was so cool. I don't know why; I was like, 'I wish that could be me someday.'"
The production also features Ashley Blanchet, Jane Blass, Jeremy Davis, Fred Inkley, Merwin Foard, Joel Hatch, Amanda Lea LaVergne, Gavin Lodge, Liz McCartney, Desi Oakley, Keven Quillon, David Rossetti, Sarah Solie, Dennis Stowe and Ryan VanDenBoom.
Annie is choreographed by Tony Award winner Andy Blankenbuehler (In the Heights, Bring It On: The Musical). Blankenbuehler is known for his fiery modern choreography (he won the Tony for In the Heights), but he said a "period" show like Annie is what he came of age on: "A lot of people don't know: I never did anything like In the Heights or Bring It On until In the Heights and Bring It On," he told Playbill.com. "I grew up doing shows like Annie. As a performer, I always did traditional musical theatre. So, I had to learn things new for those shows. So this has been great going back to my roots. Working on contemporary shows opens your eyes to breaking rules, which is good because sometimes when you do traditional shows, you go down a predictable avenue. I'd like to think this Annie will have a little of both worlds in terms of contemporary sensibilities but traditional feel."
The creative team includes scenic designer David Korins, Tony-winning costume designer Susan Hilferty, Tony-winning lighting designer Donald Holder and Tony-winning sound designer Brian Ronan. Projection design is by Wendall K. Harrington.
Music director is Todd Ellison. Orchestrations are by Michael Starobin, a longtime collaborator of Tony winner Lapine on such shows as Falsettos, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Sunday in the Park With George and Sondheim on Sondheim. Dance music arrangements are by Alex Lacamoire (In the Heights). Musical coordinator is Patrick Vaccariello. Hair and wig design is by Tom Watson. Casting is by Telsey + Company.
Animal training is by William Berloni, who was the trainer of the original production's "Sandy," and trainer of many future tours and first-class runs.
Sandy is being played by Sunny, a two-year-old terrier mix who was discovered by animal trainer Berloni at the BARC Municipal Animal Shelter in Houston, TX, only 24 hours before she was scheduled to be put to sleep as an unwanted shelter dog. Casey, a one-year-old terrier mix, is the Sandy understudy. She was found at the Maury County Animal Shelter in Nashville, TN. She was also scheduled to be euthanized before a last-minute reprieve.
Annie is being produced on Broadway by Arielle Tepper Madover, Roger Horchow, Sally Horchow, Roger Berlind, Roy Furman, Debbie Bisno, Stacey Mindich, Nederlander Presentations, Inc., Jane Bergère, Daryl Roth and Eva Price/Christina Papagjika.
The original production of Annie opened April 21, 1977, at the Alvin Theatre. Dorothy Loudon won the Best Actress Tony for playing Miss Hannigan. (Her competition in the category was Andrea McArdle, who played the title star.) The musical also won Tonys for Costume Design, Scenic Design and Choreography. Lyricist Charnin was also nominated for his Direction, but had to settle for the Best Score win.
The original Annie ran 2,377 performances and spawned many tours, and inspired a 1982 Hollywood movie starring Carol Burnett as Hannigan, Aileen Quinn as Annie and Albert Finney as Warbucks, and a later 1999 TV movie starring Kathy Bates as Hannigan, Victor Garber as Warbucks and Audra McDonald as Grace. Rob Marshall directed the TV film, and it essentially launched his moving-picture career.
This is Annie's second Broadway revival. Charnin directed a 1997 production starring Nell Carter as Miss Hannigan (she was even given a new song). It ran only seven months.
For more about the new Broadway production, visit AnnieTheMusical.com.
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